Political Animal


September 10, 2012 12:52 PM There Goes the Woodward Vote!

By Ed Kilgore

Here’s First Read’s account of the interview with Diane Sawyer granted by Bob Woodward about his latest book, which has set the Beltway aflame:

What’s particularly striking about the new Bob Woodward book is that, unlike his past works, he’s making an argument rather than trying to recreate and report on a past event and letting others draw the conclusions. Woodward’s argument here: Obama didn’t lead in the debt-ceiling debate. Woodward told ABC, per Political Wire: “President Clinton, President Reagan. And if you look at them, you can criticize them for lots of things. They by and large worked their will,” Woodward said.” On this, President Obama did not.” He added, “Now, some people are going to say he was fighting a brick wall, the Republicans in the House and the Republicans in Congress. Others will say it’s the president’s job to figure out how to tear down that brick wall. In this case, he did not.”

Now I obviously haven’t read Woodward’s book (though I have read David Corn’s authoritative account of the debt-limit battle, Showdown), and you have to figure that whatever it says Woodward wants to sell a lot of copies by providing one of those “even-handed” assessments that spread the blame for dangerous events widely. But as quoted, Woodward’s take on Obama’s “leadership” as compared to past presidents is just ridiculous.

Reagan “worked his will” sometimes by building a coalition of Republicans and “Boll Weevil” Democrats who would by and large be Republicans today, and sometimes by making the kind of compromises Republicans today would never consider. Clinton “worked his will” by getting enough Democrats in a Democratic-controlled Congress to vote for his crucial first budget (no Republicans voted for it); then outmaneuvered Newt Gingrich and company on subsequent budgets; then won re-election by a big margin. Yes, he compromised with Republicans on welfare reform and the 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement, but only after fighting them on both for a good while. And compared to today’s congressional Republican leaders, Newt Gingrich was a malleable pussycat.

It’s telling that Woodward seems to ascribe Obama’s “leadership gap” to tiny personal gestures and other psychological factors, which were somehow as responsible as what he accurately calls a “brick wall” of GOP obstructionism for the debt limit crisis. He should have “figured out” how to overcome a hard-core ideological commitment, reinforced by litmus tests and threatened purges, to oppose tax increases no matter what, even if the economy was collapsing or even if the stars fell and the sun exploded.

Sure, Obama could have averted or shortened the crisis by just surrendering. I don’t know if that’s what Woodward faults him for not “figuring out,” but it’s the logical implication.

I do just love this last sentence from the First Read piece:

Does the Woodward book on such an ugly inside the Beltway fight have legs in the swing states in these final days? We’ll see.

I have a mental image of a swing voter in Iowa or Virginia staring at the tube or pouring over Politico, and then ruefully concluding: “Barack Obama has disappointed Bob Woodward. That does it for me.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • kindness on September 10, 2012 1:00 PM:

    It has been a long time since Watergate, eh?

    Bob Woodward? Does he matter any more? Not to me.

  • c u n d gulag on September 10, 2012 1:11 PM:

    What's Bernstein got to say?

    I always thought, goofy as he is, that Carl was the brains of the duo.

    Woodward is Broder in long-form.

  • bigtuna on September 10, 2012 1:17 PM:

    What an a hole. I think most objective observers saw that the "negotiations" simply showed that Boner boy didn't have the support of the wingnuts, and thus, not the votes, to bring a deal to the committees or the full congress. At that point, there was no point in Obama, or Dem leadership, to do anything. I think we had a pretty good discussion at the time on this very site that fleshed this out nicely. IF Boner had brought 20-30 votes, the Dems might have budged. But with the revolt on his right [ie, Cantor and Ryan wouldn't go along] Boner didn't have any cover, and no deal was possible.

    All these so called negotiations showed was how beholden to the nutjobs Boner boy is.

  • Diane Rodriguez on September 10, 2012 1:17 PM:

    Woodward is 69 and his relevancy is naught. Just one more speculative drama with the fantasy of the all powerful daddy neurosis of Maureen Dowd thrown in.

    Media will gobble at the trough and Romney might add it to his "angry Black man" meme. Woodward can congratulate himself all he wants but its clear he has succumbed to his greater fear of age and impotence.

  • Josef K on September 10, 2012 1:19 PM:

    My first thought on this was the same thought I have every time one of these long-past-their-prime Beltway bobbleheads pipes up: s/he's still alive?

    My second thought is the same as every other time as well: is it lunch time yet?

  • Anonymous on September 10, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Woodward - the village idiot who thought Greenspan was a Maestro and W spoke in complete sentences? The one who confuses whatever stupid gossip his "sources" feed him with historical insight?

    The one who has re-gurgitated official BS for 30 years for the establishment rag (aka Pravda on the Potomac)?

    Any connection with reality is incidental.

  • Rich on September 10, 2012 1:22 PM:

    Judging from the excerpt I saw, it's a typical Woodward snorefest that covers ground we've already heard about, without much of a big picture.

  • Just Guessing on September 10, 2012 1:36 PM:

    Nothing worse than someone who thinks his opinion is important desperately trying to be important. Woodward - yawn.

  • stormskies on September 10, 2012 1:38 PM:

    It is fucking simple enough: the Repiglican, as have been now reported and written about, had their meeting and decided to oppose everything Obama wanted to do. End of story. Woodward, as we all have, has of course heard this about this fact.

    So exactly what was Obama meant to do then ? Or figure out ?

    Woodward in simply a fraud at this point.

  • Rabbler on September 10, 2012 1:50 PM:

    What impact do you think you have then, Mr. Ed?

  • Tom Hilton on September 10, 2012 2:03 PM:

    It’s telling that Woodward seems to ascribe Obama’s “leadership gap” to tiny personal gestures and other psychological factors...

    Isn't that the heart of Woodwardism? He's not a policy guy at all, and his books are never very illuminating about policy; his niche is the personal details of what goes on behind closed doors, and he inflates his own importance (and sales) by ascribing everything that happens to those details (rather than to what anybody, even people who aren't Woodward, can observe on C-Span).

  • T2 on September 10, 2012 2:12 PM:

    I wonder if Woodward interviewed Osama bin Laden about Obama's leadership gap?

  • Gandalf on September 10, 2012 2:16 PM:

    Oh yea Woodward. Talk about the ultimate one trick pony. The guy hasn't been the tiniest bit relevant now for forty years. I beleive there's a statement that describes him to a tee. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometime.

  • How Soon They Forget on September 10, 2012 2:28 PM:

    Ummm, Clinton didn't "work his will" with Republicans. He stood his ground on the budget, Gingrich and company shut down the government, looked ridiculous and scary in the process and never gained the upper hand again. The opposition was tempered by having lost to him -- and being intelligent enough to know that they lost.

    If Obama had simply done the same thing during the debt ceiling discussion, perhaps the same result would have occurred immediately, but most credible sources seem to think the debt ceiling is on a totally different scale. If the global economy tanks, it hurts Obama more than it hurts Republicans. Plus, by setting up the sequestor, Obama gets to run on the deal and base the substantive part of the election on whose budget priorities are the right ones.

    In fact, the debt ceiling negotiations aren't over yet, Mr. Woodward; we'll only know who "won" two months from now.

  • FlipYrWhig on September 10, 2012 2:40 PM:

    "Worked his will" sounds like it came straight out of sports announcing. "It's all going to come down to who wants it more," that kind of thing.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 10, 2012 2:43 PM:

    Sometimes you just have to wonder: What the fuck is wrong with people? Like Woodward?

  • dj spellchecka on September 10, 2012 3:01 PM:

    wtf? why do these guys all act like obama is mandrake the magician, and think that if he just waved hypnotically congress would just fall under his spell

    "worked his will"

    this is either "clap harder" or the green lantern method of being president..

  • mudwall jackson on September 10, 2012 3:34 PM:

    bob who? i haven't read anything he's written since the brethern.

  • mr.peabody on September 10, 2012 4:55 PM:

    Bob Woodward-The luckiest MF to ever work in journalism.
    If Watergate happened today, he'd be on Nixon's side.

  • Jamie on September 10, 2012 6:48 PM:

    Don't worry, bob will release his pro-Obama book when Obama gets reelected..